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Nuclear Fallout

DW staff (jen)
June 23, 2008

Politicians in Germany are calling for the US to remove nuclear arms stored in Germany after a report pointed to safety deficits at US atomic weapon sites in Europe.

Picture of atomic symbol over mushroom cloud
The report has renewed an old debate over atomic weaponry in GermanyImage: AP Graphics

Social Democrat and opposition politicians in Germany have called for the withdrawal of US atomic weapons from German military bases after a US Air Force investigation concluded that "most sites" used for deploying nuclear weapons in Europe do not meet US Department of Defense minimum security requirements.

Greenpeace activists adjust a makeshift inflatable giant nuclear bomb as they set up a road checkpoint in Equeurdreville, outside Cherbourg harbour, Normandy, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2004
The US report showed security failuresImage: AP

"Atomic weapons in Germany are a holdover from the Cold War. They must go,” Guido Westerwelle, leader of the opposition Free Democrat Party, told the Berliner Zeitung.

'No security with atomic weapons'

Germany should quickly look for a solution, together with the USA, he said, adding that such a withdrawal could also be the impetus for a new round of disarmament in Europe.

Green Party head Juergen Trittin also called for the removal of nuclear weapons, saying that German Chancellor Angela Merkel should reject Germany's role in a nuclear partnership.

Gregor Gysi, party leader of The Left, told the paper that if the current government was strong enough, it would “immediately demand the US to withdraw -- and preferably destroy -- the atomic weapons.”

Angela Merkel and Guido Westerwelle sitting together
Merkel and Westerwelle disagree on the issueImage: dpa - Bildfunk

This would make Germany more secure, he said, adding that the report shows that “with atomic weapons, there is no security.”

Merkel's party favors nuclear defense

SPD foreign affairs expert Niels Annen said the withdrawal would be a huge step toward nuclear disarmament.

But members of Merkel's ruling coalition party, the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Socialist Union, want to maintain their strategy of nuclear threat.

Of course, the weapons should be stored according to the highest security standards, the CDU foreign affairs spokesman Eckart von Klaeden told the Berliner Zeitung.

"But we cannot do without them, as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world,“ he said. “They protect us, too."

Nuclear weaponry has to be part of German security policy, continued von Klaeden. “We have to protect ourselves against being taken hostage someday from a country like Iran," he said.

Report on 'nuclear security problem'

A summary of the report was released in February, but declassified details obtained by the Federation of American Scientists revealed "a much bigger nuclear security problem in Europe" than was previously known, the group wrote on its Web site.

As a consequence, the US military plans to withdraw its nuclear custodial unit from one base and possibly consolidate remaining sites into fewer bases.

A nuclear weapons protester
Are nukes a Cold War relic, or a necessity?Image: AP Graphics

The European bases in question are places where nuclear weapons are stored for possible use by the host country's own aircraft.

US nuclear weapons are stored in underground vaults at bases in Belgium, Germany, Holland, Italy, Turkey and the United Kingdom, the federation said, mostly at US Air Force bases. Belgium, Germany, Holland and Italy each have nuclear weapons at one of their national air bases.

Losing track of warheads

The weapons at each of the national bases are under control of the US Air Force in peacetime but would, upon receipt of proper authority from the US National Command Authority, be handed over to the national Air Force at the base in a war for delivery by the host nation's own aircraft, the federation wrote.

The review was carried out after the US Air Force lost track of six nuclear warheads for more than a day last year as they were flown across the US. The Federation of American Scientists is pushing for release of details of the report.

The review found that "host nation security at overseas nuclear-capable units varies from country to country in terms of personnel, facilities, and equipment," the federation quoted the report as saying.

There were security lapses in "support buildings, fencing, lighting, and security systems," the report found.